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EPA Announces Toxic Chemical Release Inventory

Depending on who you listen to, there was good news or bad news coming out of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the TRI program, more than 23,000 factories, refineries, mines, power plants, and chemical manufacturers self-report to EPA emissions of toxic pollution to air, water, and land.

The annual report on the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment "shows that trends of declining overall releases are continuing," says EPA. The agency cites statistics that show total releases of chemicals nationwide decreased by about 700 million pounds during 2000, the latest year for which data are available. This year's TRI contains newly included data on persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals, such as dioxins, mercury and PCBs, giving communities a more complete picture of the sources of chemicals in their environment.

As reported to EPA, total chemical releases into the environment decreased nationwide from 7.8 billion pounds in 1999 to 7.1 billion pounds in 2000. Based on trends since the inception of the TRI, chemical releases have decreased approximately 48 percent since 1988.

Not all the news is good, insist environmental groups, which point out that industries reported creating 37.89 billion pounds of production-related waste, which they partially treated or disposed.

Production-related waste increased by 8.39 billion pounds between 1998 and 2000, or some 28.6 percent. The portion of these production wastes released to the environment decreased by 409 million pounds, or 5.5 percent, over the same period.

The data show "that American industries continue to produce more and more toxic waste that is treated, burned, or disposed in somebody's backyard," says a statement from the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know.

The top five states for toxic releases from manufacturing industries are: Texas, 245,761,545 pounds; Pennsylvania, 139,337,978 pounds; Ohio, 137,075,843 pounds; Louisiana, 135,215,670 pounds; Indiana, 134,272,453 pounds.

The top five states for toxic releases from non-manufacturing industries such as mines and power plants are: Nevada, 1,003,811,775 pounds; Utah, 849,800,537 pounds; Arizona, 705,336,645 pounds; Alaska, 533,512,830 pounds; and Ohio, 145,944,153 pounds.

States reporting more than 1 billion pounds for production-related waste from all covered industries are: Louisiana, 9.41 billion pounds; Texas, 4.58 billion pounds; Alabama, 2.89 billion pounds; Illinois, 1.62 billion pounds; Nevada, 1.29 billion pounds; Pennsylvania, 1.26 billion pounds; Utah, 1.23 billion pounds; Ohio, 1.11 billion pounds; and Indiana, 1.02 billion pounds. Manufacturing industries generated some 84 percent of production waste.

The TRI reflects new reporting for some highly toxic chemicals that persist in the environment. Total on- and off-site releases of these long-lasting chemicals include: dioxin, 220 pounds; mercury, 4,316,662 pounds; polycyclic aromatics, 5,402,975 pounds; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 1,460,916 pounds, eight highly persistent pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, isodrin, methoxychlor, pendimethalin, toxaphene and trifluralin), 82,443 pounds; and 838,914 pounds of four other persistent toxic chemicals.

"These new data should help people understand the link between factories that produce PVC plastic and even larger dioxin emissions that result from burning these products in backyards, garbage incinerators and medical waste incinerators," notes the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know. Most such incinerators are exempt from TRI.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman calls the TRI "a powerful tool to help citizens assess local environmental conditions and to help them make decisions about protecting their environment. I am pleased that we are beginning to provide additional data on persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals [such as dioxin] since they can remain in the environment for extended periods and build up in humans and the environment."

EPA says approximately 27 percent of chemicals were released to air, 4 percent to water, and 69 percent to land on- and off-site. As in previous years, releases from the metal mining industry in 2000 made up a substantial portion of all chemical releases: 47 percent or approximately 3.4 billion pounds. This was a decrease of over 14 percent from their releases in 1999. Releases from manufacturing industries accounted for 32 percent of all releases or about 2.3 billion pounds; a 2.6 decrease from 1999. About 16 percent of the releases were from electric utilities - about 1.15 billion pounds - achieving a 3 percent decrease from 1999.

Despite the fact that it made the list of states reporting 1 billion pounds for production-related waste from all covered industries, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary David Hess said the state's industries reduced releases of chemicals to the environment by more than 17 million pounds, or almost 10 percent, in 2000.

"This significant reduction in chemical releases is good news for the environment, the companies, workers and the communities involved," Hess insists. "It continues the steady downward trend in releases in Pennsylvania since the Toxics Release Inventory was first published in 1988."

He notes Pennsylvania improved its national rankings in the original and new industries categories. Original industries (manufacturing) in Pennsylvania dropped from fourth highest in the country to sixth. In new industries (primarily electric utilities in Pennsylvania), the Commonwealth went from eighth to tenth nationally.

"Keep in mind the numbers released in the TRI report are estimated figures for two years ago," says Hess. "Because of the commitment and hard work being done by Pennsylvania industries in the area of pollution prevention, we know the volume of chemicals being released into the environment today is less than it was two years ago."

The 2000 Toxic Release Inventory data and background information on the TRI program are available at:

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